For those curious, you can check out my initial reviews of the film and many more posts at the bottom of this article. I happen to love the movie, ranking it probably as my third favorite of the series so far, but even after my first viewing, I could see some issues that I wish had never popped up. Over time, a few more things have gotten under my skin, and that's hurt its reputation a bit. I still think it's great, but now more than ever, I wish the film had been approached in a different way in its execution.
With that being said, how do you fix The Force Awakens?
Here is a list of what I feel are the errors of the film and how I would have fixed them in a rewrite.
Core Problem #1: Being Kept in the Dark
There is a recurring theme throughout a good majority of this article, where many different problems are going to circle back to one fundamental concept: there were far too many mysteries in the film which didn't need to exist.
A good movie gives you all the information you need to know in order to get the full scope of things, while leaving minor inconsequential details out of the mix so things don't get bogged down. For example, the Lord of the Rings series can sometimes seem a bit bloated because they feel the need to explain the process in which dwarfs prefer their potatoes to be cooked on Saturdays, which comes from an old legend that blah blah blah. We can all agree that if you're a fan of the material, you want to indulge in as much of it as possible, so that stuff might be interesting to you, but that's where the expansion into other media can satiate you.
This film, however, has the opposite problem, as it relies too heavily on extraneous media to explain major plot points rather than just adding icing to the cake. The reason this happens is because they tried to rush 30 years of history into quick moments, meaning important elements are glossed over either too quickly to resonate or they are completely ignored entirely. It's a byproduct of not having enough time for the film and leaving things on the cutting room floor more than it is having told a full story and wanting to elaborate on it elsewhere.
The prequels did a great job of not falling into this pitfall, for the most part. By the end of Revenge of the Sith, you know that the clones will transition to the Stormtroopers, Obi-Wan has dropped Luke off on Tatooine where he'll watch over him as he grows up with Owen and Beru, Bail Organa has Leia and will raise her, Yoda is on Dagobah where he'll stay until we see him in The Empire Strikes Back, Darth Vader is in his suit and the Galactic Empire is about to start tightening its stranglehold on everyone with oppression getting worse over the next 20 years. The Jedi are dead and a Rebel Alliance is going to have to spring up over time. The rest is inconsequential, as the first major victory is the Battle of Yavin, which we see in A New Hope, which then gives us the journey until Return of the Jedi.
Then, the next film we have—The Force Awakens—is a jarring jump forward which makes you feel like you forgot to watch at least one, if not three movies.
Why does it seem like it's taking longer to get rid of the Empire than it did for them to have their entirety of their rule? Oh, it's not the Empire, it's something called The First Order. What's The First Order, then? The first of what? Also, if the Empire isn't still in control, do we have a new Republic? What is the new setup of the Republic? Who is in charge? We went from Valorum to Palpatine to who? Is it Leia? No, she's the leader of The Resistance. Well, what is The Resistance? Why are they resisting something that is not oppressive if they're in charge? Shouldn't The First Order be The Resistance, then? Also, if she's not the leader, does that mean she's trained in The Force and this Resistance is some kind of militarized branch where she's a go-between liaison with Luke's Jedi Order and the armies of The Republic? Wait, she didn't train at all? Why? Where's the Jedi Order? They're killed by The First Order? Again, what the fuck is The First Order? The Empire in another name ran by a guy named Snoke? Who the fuck is Snoke?! The leader of The Knights of Ren? WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS "REN" THING??!
The response you'll often hear is "read the books" which is just lazy and ridiculous. Even then, the books still don't explain much of this, as many of those questions haven't been answered yet a full year later.
Franchises work in three ways: 1) each new installment is standalone and you can jump in at any moment, 2) there are subcategories and as long as you follow the same thread, you're good, but if you branch out then you enrich your experience, 3) you need to pay attention to every little detail in every bit of canon possible. The Star Wars film series operates on the second wavelength. You don't have to dive deeper into anything other than the movies in order to get everything you need, but if you do read the comics, watch the cartoons, and so on, you're adding more depth and layers which were optional.
Look at the Marvel Cinematic Universe for an example of how to properly balance things. In Avengers: Age of Ultron, a S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier saves the day by showing up relatively out of nowhere. If you just watch the films, the explanation they give is that Nick Fury, Maria Hill and the others on that ship had this stashed away in secret for an emergency, and while the other characters were off doing their own thing, Hill and Fury were retrieving that. Cool, that explains it. Now, if you watch Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. television show, you get to see more of how that retrieval went down, which apparently also involved Phil Coulson. Awesome. You don't need to know Coulson's involvement to avoid being confused in the film, but watching the show gives you some added bonus fun.
Supplemental material should be used to explain only supplemental material. Star Wars Rebels explains how the Rebellion acquired the B-Wings. Cool. But when Hosnian Prime was destroyed, many of us thought it was Coruscant because the film didn't even take the time to say the name of the planet—or any of the planets except Jakku for that matter, oddly enough. We still don't know if Starkiller Base is Ilum, Hoth, something new, etc. The context we had with Hosnian Prime was that we had seen only one planet before that looked like a giant city and was the capital, and here is a capital planet that looks like a giant city, so why shouldn't we think it's Coruscant?
So how do you fix this problem? You simply work harder on the script in the planning stages to explain these things in a more efficient manner. Dialogue can be great tools to cram a lot in just a few words. Tweaking a minor change to the line "It was the Republic. The First Order, they've done it." to something like "That was the Hosnian system. The First Order, they've destroyed the Republic." clarifies that and takes up a fraction of a second more time.
Adding a two-minute scene where Leia speaks to representatives of the Republic could give us a considerable amount of information very quickly. That's a small amount of time to add to the film and isn't going to hurt the box office, which broke damn near every record possible. Changing a film from 2 and a half hours to 3 hours can make a dent, but nobody's going to be flipping out if a film is 137 minutes instead of 135.
Some mysteries can still be left for future films to dive into, like what Luke has been up to since he went missing, because that's a mystery to our protagonists, but we shouldn't be unaware of what happened before he left, too. Leave the fans wanting more of what's to come, not being confused about what has already happened.
Core Problem #2: Family Matters
By the end of the film, why do we not know who both Finn and Rey's parents are or where they came from or anything other than the generic baseline character descriptions given out in press releases beforehand?
There are four brand new main characters introduced that we're following the journeys of—the other two being Poe Dameron and Kylo Ren. With Poe, we don't need this information. He was originally scripted to be killed off and he's basically just an amalgam of Lando Calrissian, a less important Han Solo, and Wedge Antilles. His backstory isn't something shrouded in mystery, so it makes sense to elaborate on it with the books. Kylo Ren's backstory is incredibly rushed, but we'll get into that later in another section below. However, Finn and Rey are the two true main characters and we still basically know nothing about them!
Since we don't know Finn's heritage, we're left with conflicting arguments about whether or not he's Force-sensitive. I'm really hoping he is, as it makes more sense than if he isn't. The marketing material always had him holding a lightsaber and if they were misleading just to dangle a carrot and then say "nope, he's just a normal guy", then that's very disappointing. If he has latent Force powers that he just hasn't tapped into yet (but now can, due to The Force Awakening and all) then that would explain 1) how he could use a lightsaber pretty damn well with no training, 2) why he was such a great Stormtrooper, 3) why he could resist the brainwashing techniques they use on the children they train. To be fair, knowing that his parents were John and Jane Doe and no other information doesn't clear that question up, but we don't even know what Finn's real name is! We can assume he was abducted as a child and his parents were killed, and they might have been just two random citizens on a random planet, but why is Finn so special, then?
Rey is an entirely different animal, and I addressed a lot of my gripes about her lineage here, so I recommend checking that out. I'll try to be as short as possible while elaborating on some more things inside this article, though.
Right now, the filmmakers have painted themselves into a corner. There's no way the answer to her backstory satisfies. If she's Luke's daughter, it's okay to save information about her mother for the next film, but why not tell us at the end? People will be disappointed, saying it's the obvious answer and there was no need to delay it. I myself want this to be the case, but I can understand the point of view that it was a needless tease.
If she's Han and Leia's daughter, why don't they remember her? Just because they wanted to leave a mystery for the second film to be revealed like in the first trilogy? That's stupid.
If Rey's parents are characters we don't know, then why is it a mystery anyway? Let's just say for argument's sake that her parents are Jyn Erso and Cassian Andor of Rogue One. We wouldn't have heard of them beforehand, but when they revealed that the first standalone movie would be not only the backstory of stealing the Death Star plans, but that it was also where Rey's parents met, then that would be super interesting to the audience.
When the reveal happens is also going to be a source of contention. Too early in the next film and you run the risk of people thinking it was a waste to wait and drawing comparisons to how The Force Awakens puts too much information at the start, too. If you wait until the end, then leave the film off with wanting more information that you won't get until Episode 9, you're pissing people off for waiting another couple of years and taking everyone's patience for granted.
Because of Max Landis, more people know the term "Mary Sue" than ever, and I agree with him on the issue that Rey is definitely a victim of that lazy writing scenario. For all intents and purposes, she has absolutely zero training in The Force not just at the beginning of the film, but at the end as well, so how does she know these advanced techniques? Because they wanted her to kick ass? That's a problem with the writing team beyond the fourth wall and not something built into the story from what we're aware of. There's too much ambiguity. People shouldn't be arguing about which stretches they make up to fill in the gaps of the plot holes you create. The fans are then doing your job for you. That's why we still have no definitive answer for how Finn could fight Kylo Ren and not be decapitated in a moment. Either we have to make the jump to the conclusion that he's Force-sensitive and untrained, which puts him on par with an injured Kylo Ren, or he's a regular person and the level at which Kylo was injured is much more than indicated.
Hell, we don't even know if Finn and Rey are going to be love interests in this series, which is really a shame. Both of them are in the exact same limbo in regards to the mystery of their backstories as they were in before the film premiered, and that's not good enough. To fix that problem, they should have given us all the necessary main information we needed to know where they were going, just not how they were going to get there.
Core Problem #3: Improve the Villains
The villains we have for this new series are Supreme Leader Snoke, Kylo Ren, General Hux, Captain Phasma and to a lesser extent, Unkar Plutt and Kanjiklub and such. Some of these characters have a ton of potential, but most of it is untapped, while others are quite lackluster.
Kylo Ren as a member of the Solo family who turns evil and joins the dark side is a story we've already basically seen before, so I both don't want him to be redeemed and simultaneously don't want to see the last in the Skywalker lineage end up a villain (unless, of course, Rey is Luke's daughter, which I'm really hoping is the case as mentioned above). Having him dress up similar to Darth Vader is okay, but that name "Kylo Ren" isn't threatening enough to me in comparison. For that matter, all of the names of the villains are pretty lame. "Kylo Ren" could work very well for something else in the universe, but as the primary villain, meh. Think about it. What is more villainous sounding, Kylo or Sidious? Ren or Maul?
Snoke is a dumb name, too, and Phasma sounds like something that is better suited for Battlestar Galactica or Star Trek than Star Wars. It's too stereotypically sci-fi for this series, oddly enough. Hux is okay, but kind of lame, and it doesn't fit that particular character. To me, Hux should be the name of the overweight alien in Maz's castle, not Domhnall Gleeson (who actually could have been named Kylo Ren and I would have bought that, more). Star Wars Rebels has better names overall, like Agent Kallus, which sounds more threatening than Captain Phasma, so maybe those writers should have spent 5 minutes of Google research to find cooler sounding things than what we got.
Ignoring the names for a moment, the characters themselves are lacking in other ways, too. Snoke right now is WAY too much like Emperor Palpatine. They're both old, bald, pale, deformed dark side users who have menacing voices and wear black robes while sitting in chairs and are introduced via hologram and not wanting to get their hands dirty. Seriously, what's the difference? Why not do something that's a change of pace like making the big bad a woman or go with a completely changed design that we wouldn't immediately think of as a poor man's attempt to redo Sidious?
Captain Phasma was advertised as this big deal and she ended up being less threatening than Grand Moff Tarkin as well as having less screen time than him. Why make her out to be a badass just to have her give up at the first sign of a threat and then be unceremoniously thrown into the garbage and presumed to have blown up on the planet which, of course, has no name yet because they don't like naming planets anymore I guess. I know I'm not in the minority when I say she was one of the biggest disappointments based on the advertisement material building her up to be something she wasn't. That scene with Nines—who, again, we only know the name of because of the novels, not the movies, which is why everybody knows him better as TR-8R—should have been Captain Phasma's part in the movie. They gave no explanation for her surviving and if she had been fleshed out more, it would have been okay for her to be killed off in that scene since no villains are killed at all in this movie.
Starkiller Base is just another Death Star. If you need something big for them to blow up (which I don't think you do, by the way) then why not do the Sun Crusher from the Expanded Universe? That's at least more interesting than "a bigger Death Star that can shoot multiple beams instead of one."
The Rathtars are pretty lame and that scene slows down the movie and eats up time that could have been used for something else, like a space fight scene or more time for explaining all those things we were kept in the dark about. Even worse, though, is that you had the guys from The Raid do something that wasn't an actual fight sequence—and this is coming from a guy who hasn't even seen that movie! I've heard nothing but amazing things about their choreography and how great the action was in that film and to see them do nothing but run from tentacles was such a wrong choice. They should have been cast as members of the Knights of Ren and shown killing off the new Jedi or something.
Let's finally circle back to Ben Solo and how everything with him was rushed. When we last left our heroes in Return of the Jedi, Leia wasn't even pregnant with him. The audience didn't even know that Han and Leia had a child, so we need to be caught up on: 1) they had a kid, 2) the kid is named Ben, 3) he trained with Luke, 4) something happened where he turned to the dark side, 5) he's now going by the name Kylo Ren, 6) he's defected to the villains and has a high ranking there. That's SO much information that we don't have much time to process without even getting the details of those things—just the bulk concepts in general. Right now, Kylo Ren exists more as a concept of a character than a truly fleshed out character himself, and he's not supposed to be as mysterious as Darth Vader originally was. In A New Hope, we didn't need to know much about him. He's just the evil guy who trained under Obi-Wan and killed Luke's father. Done. It was simple, effective, and it worked for the film. Lor San Tekka—a character we know nothing about and learn nothing about—basically just says at the beginning of the film "You're the son of Han and Leia and turned bad for some reason."
The villains in The Force Awakens aren't memorable yet because they haven't done anything, except for Ben killing Han, but it doesn't have as much gravitas as if we would have known more about the character before he made that choice. We never got a chance to see Ben in a way that makes us heartbroken to see him kill his father. To us, he's always just been a villain, so it's not surprising that he kills Han, which is why everybody saw it coming from a mile away. If you watch The Phantom Menace first, by the time you reach the scene where Anakin chops off Mace Windu's hand, you're surprised he took the evil action instead of turning against Palpatine and doing what's right. When you watch The Force Awakens, Kylo Ren has been nothing but evil from the start and he's just some punk ass whiny emo dickbag who murdered one of your favorite characters from the original films. Without killing Han, nobody cares about Kylo Ren, just as the only thing people care about with Snoke is his learning his identity. Without that mystery, Snoke is a poor man's Palpatine just as Hux is a poor man's Tarkin, Phasma is a poor man's Boba Fett (albeit with an equally bad track record), Unkar Plutt is about on par with the Tusken Raiders and the Rathtars are even less interesting than the Rancor.
Core Problem #4: Properly Illustrate the Passage of Time
Why does everything feel exactly the same as it did in Return of the Jedi if so much time has gone by? If the answer is just because they wanted people to feel like it was tied more to the original trilogy than the prequels, that's a misguided attempt to pander to audiences rather than to justify it within the story.
Obviously, after the horrible dictatorship that went down, there would be a healing process where the galaxy would need to take a long while to get back to normal, so they shouldn't be as prosperous and clean-looking as things were in the prequels, but this should have been bridging the gap at least. Why is there seemingly little to improvement in decadence in this time of peace? Everything is still a barren wasteland with old technology. It's been 30 years and they're still using X-Wings and TIE Fighters? They're antiquated!
If your answer is "The Resistance was forced to rely on leftovers and use old technology as they weren't given the proper funds from The Republic due to a political struggle where some people didn't support them" then I ask you where that information was relayed in the film. Again, if your answer is "it's in the books" then I'll point out that six other movies didn't run into that problem, so this one shouldn't have, either. I should be looking into the books for information on why Kylo Ren prefers a crossguard design to his lightsaber, how BB-8 and Poe Dameron first met, the backstory on how Han stole the Rathtars and simple things like that, not big questions.
We should have had different ships, or at least alterations to the ones we're used to, save for the Millennium Falcon. Admittedly, it was nice to see that they changed the circular dish to a rectangular one, which means they do pay attention to some details, but why are the X-Wings basically the same? Shouldn't they have upgraded to a different type of ship by now or at least augmented them with some new advancements other than that gun turret which may or may not have already been part of the other ones in the original trilogy but just never seen on film?
One argument I could make is BB-8 being a more modernized version of R2-D2. I'll give you that one. The spherical design allows for much better maneuverability, which shows that at least in the field of astromechs, someone's trying to take things to the next level. That's the type of philosophy that should have been applied all over the place.
Similarly, we ended Return of the Jedi with Luke being the only Jedi and this film starts off with him being the only Jedi. We couldn't even get half a film where there were some more? Why couldn't The Force Awakens be the tweaked where instead of it being a hunt for Luke, the movie's midway point isn't the destruction of the Hosnian system, but the eradication of the new Jedi? To preserve the mystery of what happened? That just brings us back to the argument asking why we needed to have all these mysteries to begin with!
Miscellaneous Extra Flaws & Nitpicking
Basically, those big problems above are the things that would have saved these movies and made them better as a whole, but there are smaller things that could have been changed as well. I'm obviously not going to nitpick every little detail, but a few things that stand out to me are as follows:
- Use the Force, Luke...I mean, Rey – When Rey and Kylo Ren are dueling, the tide turns when he says he'll train her to use The Force, and she simply says "The Force?" closes her eyes, relaxes, and can suddenly fight better. I've heard this suggestion before and I absolutely love it, that it would have been so much more powerful and made much more sense if she had overheard Luke's voice telling her to use The Force, similar to what had happened with him in the X-Wing with Obi-Wan Kenobi. Some would take issue that Luke isn't a ghost, so he shouldn't be able to communicate in the same way, but why not? He's the most powerful Jedi ever. You mean to tell me he couldn't send a message like that in a great time of stress to someone who may be his daughter, particularly when we've seen Yoda speak to Ezra Bridger in similar fashion while still alive? Luke would be able to reach out, and it would give her the guidance she needs to explain how she can fight better. I'll even one-up this, by saying it would be great to hear Snoke before this tell her to kill Kylo, so we could hear a battle of influences between the light and dark sides. You can even justify it by saying when Rey touched Luke's lightsaber, a connection was established through psychometry. On top of this, it would give the viewers a chance to think "Wait, is Luke dead?" which makes the finale reveal so much sweeter.
- Easy on the References – The callbacks to the original trilogy were fun, but too numerous. The trash compactor joke and Finn picking up the little training ball served no purpose other than to get fans to chuckle.
- Give Finn a Theme – Rey has a theme. Kylo Ren has a theme. Why no Finn theme?
- R2-D2's Convenient Timing – Why does Artoo not wake up from sleep mode when BB-8 first comes to the base? The true answer is "because they wanted to keep the map reveal until later" which is no excuse if there's not an in-story rationale. Something should have given that a reason to be delayed.
- Where is Lando? – How was he not included in the movie or even mentioned?! That guy needs to be a senator or in control of a planet or something.
- Who is Lor San Tekka? – Who is this dude? His death means nothing because we don't know him.
- Kill Chewbacca – I can't imagine Chewbacca carrying on as a character without Han Solo. Maybe I'm wrong, but I just think he'll be a shell of his former self and his death won't matter as much now. He should have died in a self-sacrifice to blow up Starkiller after Han bit the dust. You might ask what would have happened with him not being able to save Rey and Finn with the Millennium Falcon, right? Well, how about Poe saves them instead? There. Now Poe and Rey can actually have a scene together, which brings me to...
- Give Rey and Poe a Scene Together – They seriously don't exchange a single word to each other. Isn't that weird to think about?
Well, there you have it—some insight into how I would have changed things in hindsight if I was magically given me the ability to do so. Some of these problems just cannot be fixed anymore, while others can hopefully be elaborated on in Episode 8 and future films to help explain why we're left in the dark about so much information.